“It’s the best job in the world”. The words of Graham Green, the present Provincial Treasurer and past Provincial President 2009-2010, on my becoming Provincial President of Province 3 South at the end of April 2013. How right he was! What a magnificent year my wife, Chris, and I have had.
Province 3 South consisted of eight Circles (unfortunately, now seven, due to the demise of one of the oldest Circles in Catenianism, Sheffield 8, in March 2014). These Circles are arranged in a long, almost horizontal finger, stretching from Sheffield to Grimsby and then south to Lincoln. It takes in three Counties and three Dioceses (those of Leeds, Hallam and Nottingham). 3 South started life in 1968 on the division of the old Province 3 into 3 North and 3 South – well before my time as I am a relative newcomer, joining in May 2000. The two Provinces, although separate entities, have their own Councils, and therefore, Presidents, but share one Director, David Brinkley. Traditionally they join together for some social functions.
Before my inauguration as President at the end of April, we hosted an “at home” for all the incoming Circle Presidents and their wives, although two are widowers. Chris did a sterling job in organising this, an excellent foretaste of all to come. With only one exception they arrived on a Sunday afternoon in February. After a buffet lunch I took the incumbent Presidents into a separate room to compare calendars (I had previously prepared, and sent, an outline calendar for the year based on previous Provincial and Circle ones). Our wives, without we men folk, were able to start to get to know each other (although one or two were familiar). This turned out to be a very good decision as in the ensuing social functions they already knew one another.
I decided to make my priority for the year the visiting of all Circles in 3 North and 3 South. The former I hoped to visit at least once and the latter, being my own Province, at least twice. In the event at the end of the year I can now say that I have visited all Circles in 3 North three times each and all Circles in 3 South, with the exception of City of Lincoln, at least four times. This has meant a total of 60 visits within the two Provinces. I am really pleased to say that it was the right decision. I had been a visitor to Circles before but not on regular basis. Having made all these visits I am now very much more familiar with all the Circles and their Bothers – and, hopefully, them with me. I have made all but a small handful of these visits on my own. Initially this was not planned – it just happened. However, before long I realised that this was the best thing to do as it enabled me to talk to so many Circle Brothers, whereas I would have very probably spent a lot of time taking the easy way out and just conversing with the Brothers with whom I had travelled.
Some highlights to pick out. The first ones were both in June with my attendance at the Centenary Dinner of Bradford Circle 3 North, followed later by the 400th meeting of City of Lincoln. In July there was the last Padley Mass, organised by Sheffield 8 (although, thankfully, it will be continued by the other Sheffield Circle, Sheffield Hallamshire). Padley is an old Chapel in the Hope Valley in Derbyshire where two of the English martyrs, Nicholas Garlick and Robert Ludlam were being hidden. On discovery they were taken to Derby where they were hung, drawn and quartered. The Mass, attended with our wives, is always held on a July evening and is a very spiritual event. It is then followed by the Circle meeting and supper.
The Circle Dinner Dances/Balls/Ladies nights started at the end of September at Wakefield, finishing at the beginning of March at Barnsley. We were able to visit them all, having a good time at each one. Throughout the year I was able to attend the majority of the Rex Kirk Quiz which is a joint Province event. This is an annual quiz which follows, loosely, the University Challenge format. Each round has three teams of three with each team having a buzzer (or bell, actually). There are six rounds, followed by two semi-finals and then the final. It has been organised for the last eighteen years by Scunthorpe Circle. They have now passed the baton to Barnsley and will certainly be a very hard act to follow. The final at Scunthorpe was, as usual frt the last few years, won by Huddersfield Circle.
Other special Circle events that I was able to attend were Huddersfield Circle night in June where two Brothers received their 50 year Scrolls and another his 40 year Scroll, all presented by the Grand President. Observing the ages of new Brothers as I have travelled around, I don’t think that there will be many such Scrolls in the future. Perhaps it is time to re-think and consider giving Scrolls for 25 years membership –celebrating, as in marriage, a ”silver” anniversary. After all, the cost is minimal but the recognition and appreciation immense. September saw me again at Huddersfield at their annual Yorkshire night, where, as a skit on the Burns night, they pipe in a giant Yorkshire pudding, preceded by the Yorkshire flag. As a Yorkshire man, I say quite right too! October brought the annual Barnsley Chop Night, hosted by Barnsley Circle. Usually this consists it three ribs of lamb but, due to keeping costs down, not to say about the capabilities of Brothers’ eating capacities, there were only two ribs of lamb – still a substantial amount. The following month Wetherby Circle held their Poetry and Prose night. This was won by my Vice-President Peter Wilcox who gave a magnificent rendition and thoroughly deserved to win. In March, Grimsby held their annual Fish n’ Chip night – a fitting location for such a feast, which, of course, included mushy peas.
I also attended my very first Conference – although not all of it. In agreement with David Hawley, Sheffield 8 Circle secretary and Past Provincial President for 2011/2012 we decided to go for the day. We caught the 6.30 am train, with our wives, from Sheffield on the Saturday morning. Arriving at St Pancras David and I caught the bus (don’t bus passes come in handy) for the Conference while Chris and Ann decided to do what females like to do – window shopping! We had some tenuous arrangement to meet later – depending on how things went and our mood at the time. I enjoyed the morning session which was, of course, very new to me, although David had been previously. Come the end of the formal session we decided we were in need of liquid sustenance. As I had known, a few years ago, a good pub near Liberties, at the rear of Hanley’s, we decided to see if it was still good. Yes. Over a pint, well two, we contacted our shoppers and arranged for lunch together. We never did get to Mass in Westminster, the lunch lasting two hours by which time we just had time to catch he train home, arriving about 10 pm. Why didn’t we go for the whole week-end? One word – cost!
I also attended a number of funerals in the year. May to September saw me going four times to Scunthorpe, whose Circle numbers were particularly savaged by those Brothers’ deaths. In November I was at the funeral of Brother Chris Wilson of Sheffield Hallamshire and then in February Brothers, Mike Bowman and David McDonald, of my own Circle, Wakefield, who died within two weeks of each other.
What of other Provincial events in all this hectic activity? Province 3 Quarterly Masses were held at Wakefield, Padley (Sheffield 8), Doncaster, and Lincoln. All of these were Ladies night so Chris was able to attend as well. I was also able to attend the November Quarterly Mass at Wharfedale Circle in Ilkley. The respective Provincial Councils are constantly urging Brothers to make an effort to attend these Quarterly Masses – an urging which is taking fruit.
As Provincial Presidents, my opposite President of 3 North (John McAdam) of Huddersfield Circle and I were expected to organise a joint Provincial Day, Ladies Ball and a week-end. I organised a very successful Presidents’ Sunday on the first Sunday in August. This was held at Cannon Hall in Cawthorne, just outside Barnsley, its magnificent setting belying Barnsley’s reputation for grime and dirt (the last coal mine closed 22 years ago). Rain started in the morning but, true to the sun shining on the righteous, the afternoon was very much better and a good time was had by all. John and I organised the Ladies Ball, held as usual, at the Bridge Inn, where Wetherby Circle hold their meetings. As it was held the day after Valentine’s Day all the Ladies were presented with roses by John and I as they entered the dining room. An excellent night was attended by 106 Brothers and their wives.
The last Provincial event was the week-end to London. This was attended mainly by 3 South’s Brothers, wives, widows and friends. We left Barnsley by coach on Friday morning for a hotel in South Kensington. An excellent dinner at Brasserie Zedel, opposite Piccadilly theatre, was greatly appreciated. On Saturday we had a most enjoyable boat trip down to Greenwich, from where the coach took us back to our hotel. In the early evening we were taken to the Royal Albert Hall to see (and participate in) the Classical Spectacular. We certainly had a spectacular night. On Sunday Morning we attended the 10 o’ clock Mass at the Brompton Oratory. Even though this was in English it was like going back in time – the priest even remonstrated with me for putting a foot on the Sanctuary when I approached him. I wonder who does the cleaning!). After Mass we spent three hours in Windsor before returning home having had a wonderful week-end.
Some regrets. Chris and I were away on holiday in Palazzola, which belongs to the English College, just outside Rome when Scunthorpe held their annual Casino night. Although not gamblers in the slightest, we always enjoy that particular night so were disappointed to miss it. Another regret is not visiting Circles to see the inauguration of all “my” Circle Presidents. At the time I decided not to go because I had not been inaugurated as Provincial President. I wish that I had taken the opposite decision and visited. The biggest regret of all has to be the end of Sheffield 8 Circle at the end of March 2014. Started in 1912, I had attended their Centenary event only two years ago. It seems strange to realise that when they read out their deceased Brothers at Circle prayers, some of them were killed in action during World War 1. The Provincial Council had set up a Task Force to try and help the Circle to try and overcome its problems. These were, mainly, that not enough Brothers were volunteering to take Office. Those who had done so in recent years felt as though they had done it too often and were being recycled yet again. The Circle had not recruited very well in recent years, with the result that there were insufficient new Brothers available to be groomed for Office. This is surely a stark warning for other Circles that recruiting matters. Unfortunately, whatever was suggested, the Circle Brothers did not feel able to agree to continue as a Circle.
Now to a few logistics. Fortunately, living in Barnsley just three miles from the M1, I am fairly central to Circles in 3 North and 3 South. Ampleforth Circle is my furthest journey in 3 North, being 65 miles away. In 3 South Grimsby is 72 miles (an easy journey) while Lincoln is the most difficult journey although it is only 67 miles away.
My total mileage was 4,538. What of meals. I ate at every Circle meeting as I think the essence of Catenianism is the socialising after the meeting – the meeting being the vehicle to enable us to meet. Four Circles provide a free meal/buffet. These being my own Circle of Wakefield which provides a one course dinner, Wharfedale who did the same, while Harrogate and City of Leeds both provide a sandwich buffet. Chris and I ate free at all the annual Circle Dinner nights, four of which I was asked to give a vote of thanks on behalf of the guests, and also at the Grimsby Fish n’ Chip night, plus one of my visits to Scunthorpe. Then of course there were the raffle tickets bought at Circle meetings (most, but not all, have a monthly raffle) and the ones at the annual Dinner Dance nights. I didn’t have a particularly lucky year, winning just one prize at Dinner Dance nights and one at Circle nights – and that one being the whisky that I had provided at my Joint Circle of Barnsley when it had been my turn on the rota!
Still, as Graham said, and to which I fully concur “It’s the best job in the world”. What a really enjoyable, unbelievable, fantastic and magnificent year that I have had. It could not have been done without the support of Chris, my wife. I pinned up a special visiting schedule on the calendar and then, when out shopping, she would also ask when I was out the following week so that she knew when to buy a “meal for one”. She also helped enormously with organising the Provincial Day, flowers for the Provincial Dinner Dance and the “biggy”- the Provincial week-end. So now it’s goodbye to all that – but what wonderful memories.